If you have a nest box or two in your outdoor space, you have already done something brilliant for the birds in your backyard. But to help make it a safer home for them to raise their chicks, it is important to clean it once a year.
Why do we need to clean nest boxes?
The nests of most birds are also home to fleas and other parasites, which can remain and then harm young birds that hatch the following year. By removing old nests you are helping to give the chicks the best start in life.
When to do it
The ideal time boxes should be cleaned is in the autumn, from September onwards, once the birds have stopped using the box. You can clean it in the winter, but the earlier in the season the better, to avoid any early nesters. If you decide to do it later in the winter it is best to observe the nest first to make sure no-one has moved in.
What do I have to do?
First remove your nest box from its location. If you have to use a ladder it is always best to have someone else around to help and to hold it steady.
Once down, most good nest boxes have a removable lid or a hatch so you can clean inside. Depending on the design, you may need a screwdriver.
Once open put on your rubber gloves and remove as much of the old nest as possible. Often they come out whole so you can see all the different materials the bird has used to make its home!
If you find eggs in the box which haven’t hatched, these can only be removed legally between September and January (August-January if you’re in Scotland) – and must then be disposed of. Do double check the nest is no longer active as some species can nest right through September.
Scrape away any remaining debris and then carefully pour boiling water into the nest, to kill any harmful bugs. DO NOT use insecticides or flea powders.
Let the nest box dry out thoroughly before closing it back up.
If you have hay or wood shavings available, these can be put into the box to increase birds or mammals using it for shelter over winter.
Put the nest box back up and look forward to spring, when hopefully some birds will choose it as their new home!
Make sure you thoroughly wash your hands, arms and any clothes which come into contact with the nest box.
Can I take a peek inside the nest box at any other time of year? It is best not to. Birds like to be left alone to raise their young, with some abandoning their nest if they think it has been discovered.
RSPB Dorking & District Local Group
Please visit www.group.rspb.org.uk/dorkinganddistrict/ for information about future events and organised walks. Also see RSPB Dorking and District on Facebook.